Addictions recovery program for queer youth to open in Calgary next spring

The Stonewall Recovery program will be a residential addictions treatment program for queer youth in Calgary between the ages of 18 and 24.

'We just need to create that safe space for 365 days a year and not just for [Pride] Month'

The Stonewall Recovery program, an addictions treatment program for queer youth in Calgary, is expected to open next spring. (Billion Photos/Shutterstock)

A new addictions recovery program is in the works in Calgary, and it's being created specifically for 2SLGBTQ youth.

Steven Archambault  is the co-founder of Stonewall Recovery, a residential treatment program that will help queer youth between the ages of 18 and 24. 

The program is being set up as part of the Simon House Recovery Centre in Calgary, which provides addictions treatment for men. 

Archambault said Stonewall Recovery will offer treatments that differ from traditional recovery programs.

"We're going to give everybody agency. So, if they've come in and they've tried treatment before and they've done the 12 steps, and they know it doesn't resonate with them, we'll have something else for them," he said.

The program had a soft launch on Saturday to raise donations, get the word out and find volunteers. Archambault said he hopes the centre will have 50 beds available and be open by spring 2023. 

A failure of the system

Brittney Sawyer, Archambault's co-founder of Stonewall Recovery, said the idea for the program came from an experience she had while working at a detox centre. 

Sawyer said a client who was a transgender woman told her that she didn't feel comfortable going to either a male or female treatment centre. 

"I kind of felt like a failure for the first time in my job," Sawyer said. "And I kept reflecting on that and I realized that it wasn't me that was a failure. It was society. That's the failure that we have nowhere for her to go."

Sawyer, who recently finished a master's in counselling psychology, called up Archambault that same day to discuss putting a treatment program together specifically for queer-identifying youth.

Steven Archambault, co-founder of Stonewall Recovery, says the program needs to raise $5.1 million to secure a building and operating costs for its first year. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

According to Sawyer, she's heard from members of the 2SLGBTQ community who did not feel safe at traditional addictions treatment programs.

"They're not open to be themselves. They don't feel comfortable," she said.

So far, Sawyer said she's been overwhelmed by the positive response the program has gotten. She said several people who are in recovery programs themselves have reached out to help as they wish a program like Stonewall existed for them.

"They want to be a part of it because they don't want anyone else to go through what they went through."

A safe space for queer-identifying youth

There is still much work to do though before Stonewall is up and running, including finding a building to house the program. 

Archambault  has a space in mind just north of Calgary, but the property will cost about $3.9 million. Plus, the co-founders are looking to raise another $1.2 million to cover operating costs for the first year of the program. That's $5.1 million all together that they're hoping to collect through donations. 

Archambault said he's confident they can raise the money and get word out about the program, as he's received several messages on social media already from people interested in the program.

"I think the problem is going to come [when] I'm not going to have enough space to serve everybody right away, and there's going to be a wait list," he said.

John Rook, CEO of Simon House, said establishing a program like Stonewall was a "no brainer" as there are gaps in addiction treatment services for the queer community. 

"When we have people in that community who can't get the care they need to, get bullied out of [a] program, who don't feel safe in traditional programs, then I believe when you see a need, you don't have a choice, you have to fill it," he said.

Simon House opened in Calgary more than 35 years ago. Last year, it opened a space at the centre specifically for traditional Indigenous healing.

Rook said when Stonewall Recovery gathers enough funding and gains charitable status, it can become its own independent organization from Simon House. 

"Simon House doesn't need to have a legacy. What we need is to care for people's lives," Rook said. "So if [Stonewall Recovery] is on its own, then that's the best way to do that. Then it can fundraise for itself and it can be everything it needs to be."

Sawyer said at the end of the day, the importance of Stonewall Recovery is to make sure there's a space for queer youth in Calgary all year whenever they need it. 

"We just need to create that safe space for 365 days a year and not just for [Pride] Month."

With files from Terri Trembath